Life ends at 45... Study reveals when our mental powers start to diminish

Huge survey carried out on Whitehall civil servants shows our brains peak earlier that we think

Hone those chess skills, pick up that crossword and solve the sudoku – a major study has found that our brains start deteriorating at the age of 45 – more than a decade earlier than had been thought.

Previous research had suggested that cognitive performance – memory, reasoning and comprehension skills – did not begin to decline until the age of 60.

But if the earlier onset is proved it could be a warning signal about dementia, which is set to become the major health challenge of the 21st century. Studies have linked modest differences in cognitive performance in early life with increased risk of dementia.

The study, conducted among Whitehall civil servants over a decade, found that among those aged 45-49 at the start there was a 3.6 per cent decline in mental reasoning in both sexes over the next ten years. Among those aged 65-70, the decline increased to 9.6 per cent among men and 7.4 per cent among women over the following decade.

Performance in reasoning, memory and verbal fluency were all affected. But vocabulary, which is known to be little influenced by age, was unaffected.

Participants were tested on their reasoning power with 65 questions involving multiplying two figures, completing a pattern or filling in a word sequence. They had 10 minutes, with the best getting all 65 questions right.

Two types of verbal fluency were tested by asking them to name all the animals they could think of in one minute and all the words beginning with "S". The top scores were 36 animals and 32 "S" words.

On memory they listened to a list of 20 words and had to recall as many as possible in one minute. The maximum score was 18. Archana Singh Manoux, who led the study by the Centre for Research in Population Health in France and University College, London, said: "Cognitive performance is complex. It is a combination of knowledge and speed. If you are looking for words but it takes you 10 minutes it is not much use."

The results demonstrated the importance of acting early to ward of premature mental decline. Diet, smoking, physical exercise were all important, she said, because emerging evidence showed "what is good for our hearts is also good for our heads".

Leisure activities also mattered. "If you play chess and can plan six moves in advance then you are probably going to be all right," Ms Manoux said.

The findings in the British Medical Journal, show a significant decline on all tests, except vocabulary. Although the decline was most marked in reasoning, it might turn out that memory decline was more significant in the development of dementia, she said.

She added: "There is a lot of research going on into Nintendo games for the elderly. The findings so far are inconclusive but that might be because the participants are too old and should start at a younger age."

In the BMJ, Francine Grodstein, of the Brigham and Women's hospital in the US, says the study has "potentially profound implications" for dementia by indicating that efforts to prevent it may need to begin in adults as young as 45.

Are you smarter than a 45-year-old? Take the test

1. Easy means the opposite of: Problem, simple, difficult, always, cannot.

2. 15 35 55 75 95: What number comes next?

3. Seed is to plant as egg is to: tree, bird, pollen, oats, potato.

4. Here are three figures, 234. Divide the biggest figure by the smallest and add the result to the figure printed immediately after the smallest figure.

5. Right means the opposite of

Action, good, careless, wrong, motive.

6. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Add the first five figures together and subtract them from the sum of the last four.

7. Army is to Navy as soldier is to: airman, sea, service, sailor, uniform.

8. If castle is bigger than cottage, write down the second of these figures: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. If it is not, then write down the sixth.

9. 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, 1/6. What number comes next?

10. If G is the seventh letter of the alphabet and Wednesday is not a month of the year, divide 63 by 7. Otherwise subtract 3 from 5. Write down your answer.

11. Here are three figures: 672. Add the largest two figures and divide the total by the smallest figure.

12. Sky is to ground as ceiling is to: roof, down, floor, rug, high.

13. If 8 is more than 3, write down 7, unless 3 is more than 7, in which case write 8.

14. When is to where as time is to: how, why, space, length, relativity.

15. 0.9, 1.1, 1.3, 1.5, 1.7. What comes next?

Answers

1. Difficult; 2. 115; 3. bird; 4. 5; 5. wrong; 6. 15; 7. sailor; 8. 2; 9. 1/7; 10. 9; 11. 6.5; 12. floor; 13. 7; 14. space; 15. 1.9.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own